Most known for her character as Thelma, in the 70s comedy Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads, Brigit Forsyth is taking to the stage with her daughter, in a play written by her daughter. After a successful run at London’s Park Theatre, Killing Time is touring the UK.
The play itself is about a retired celloist Hester, who used to love music, but is finding herself fed up with it because it isn’t quite doing for her what it used to. She finds out that she has terminal cancer, but she is a very feisty woman who is determined to get on with her life. Whilst it sounds like a tragedy, there is a lot of humour in the show, particular in the relationship between her and her carer Sara.
“Hester drinks a lot of red wine,” Brigit explained. “My character is actually pissed a lot in the play, but she isn’t at all self pitying. She is very rude to her social worker Sara, and keeps putting her off, but eventually she lets her in and says she can do a bit of housework.” They gradually form a sort of friendship, although the social worker Sara is young and completely opposite to Hester. Brigit said: “She is full of taking selfies of herself all the time and talking about being in cyber space and Hester just things this is ghastly. There are fantastic scenes where Hester is deriding her and Sara just ignores it all and carries on the way she is – that is the dynamic.”
Throughout the humour, the play raises all sorts of subjects. Brigit told me: “People are terribly interested in it, because it is about death and the right to die, but also finding the right way to die.” Hester considers killing herself, as she thinks it will be the best way to go, but she can’t do it on her own.
Brigit describes it as the most challenging role she has ever played, she said: “When you see it, you will see that I do everything except fly. I play the cello all the way through which isn’t easy, and I’ve got a huge emotional journey to do it in. I change emotions in half a line, literally the slick of a switch emotionally which is pretty taxing to do on stage.”
Despite her extensive career, what makes this particular play different is that Brigit’s daughter Zoe Mills wrote the play, and stars alongside her as Sara. “I am rather in awe of her,” Brigit said. “It is almost like the roles have reversed and she is like the mother, as not only is she in the piece she has written, she is also producing it. She is quite extraordinary, I am very lucky to be her mother, in fact I am privileged ”
Being on the road with her daughter is a privilege in itself. She told me: “It’s just so much fun, we’ve got the same sense of humour which is an absolute blessing. I don’t know how anyone survives in this business who doesn’t have a sense of humour, because it is a tough old business.” She talked about how they manage to laugh about stuff, particularly when things go wrong. Which made it a more enjoyable experience when it comes to rehearsing and putting together the play.
It took Zoe Mills a few years to write the play, as it was originally based on a piece of cello music Brigit had written called Hard Time. “She has always loved it and praised it a lot,” Brigit explained. “She said she was going to write something about it, originally it was going to be a one woman play and I have never had any desire to do a one woman show as I’d be absolutely terrified.” Zoe then dipped in and out of it for five years and eventually after finishing a final draft, they went around and did lots of readings of it and got excellent feedback.
As Zoe had written the part for her mother, I wondered if there are any aspects of Brigit in her character Hester. Brigit laughed, “I had two of my best friends see it last night, we had breakfast this morning together and my friend said: ‘of course there is rather a lot of you in it,’ which is quite funny.” She picked on the fact that Hester swears a lot and loves red wine, which reflects her personality. Brigit said: “There are so many elements taken from me, but I’d like to think not too many.”
Killing Time has a strong core message, and Brigit believes it provokes discussion about important subjects, such as death. “The play gets people talking about it,’ Brigit said. “A lot of the time you see shows and think they were alright, but on a whole it leaves you not feeling anything in particular. I’ve had that a lot, and I believe this show really engages an audience. You need to be able to believe the people in front of you on stage.” It had a great run in London and Brigit touched on a particular memory that resonates with her: “After the show one evening I came out to get a taxi and there were some young people smoking outside who said to me ‘We just had such a good evening, and now we are talking about death!’ So I just thought, we must be doing something right, I think it is just super to have that reaction.”
Brigit feels deeply about theatre being something that is both entertaining and gets people talking. Which is what they aim to do in Killing Time, as they tell the story of Hester and the conflict she is facing through humour that is interjected with raw and genuine moments. She is a woman struggling and Brigit displays that emotional rollercoaster on stage.
Arriving at the Lowry on the 15th of March, tickets can be found here.